The Real Wicked Determinists

Thanks to the Nazi belief in blood and destiny, there is a widespread assumption that evolutionary psychology, which is once again building our self-understanding on the biological sciences, must necessarily be racist. In fact, the discipline has virtually nothing to say about human “races”. The genetic differences between population groups are rather small and behaviourally not very interesting; if evolutionary psychology is determinist about anything, it is determinist about gender instead.

A stronger case could surely be made that it is the late-twentieth century environmental and cultural determinism that instead was conducive to racism. For if a person inherits his skin colour from his parents but is otherwise entirely a product of his cultural environment, then his behaviour is necessarily dictated by factors that differ widely from place to place. It would follow from this that a human being from one place is irreducibly “different” from a human being from another place; and whenever human beings see difference, they unfortunately have trouble not seeing superiority and inferiority as well. In contrast, the more our psychology is based on our universal human biology, the more similar it will be from one place to another and the shallower will be the differences based on culture. Ergo, human differences are emphasised far more by cultural than by truly scientific biological determinism. If difference-mongering is held to be a Bad Thing, therefore, it follows that it should be the cultural determinists in the dock, not the evolutionists.

We might further suggest that, unlike the biological differences, cultural differences are reinforced by making a big fuss about them. The politics of identity thus act like a conservative movie director who rebukes ad-libbers and instructs the players to stick to the script. That is, one must act in accordance with one’s cultural nature. Some effects of this concern with cultural heritage may even remind us of the way youngsters blame their vices on their sun-signs: “You can’t expect me to show up on time, I’m a Pisces!”

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